Thursday , July 7 2022

No excuse for Uefa echoing Hillsborough by instantly blaming Liverpool fans | Uefa

Two days on from the Paris horrors, where Uefa demonstrated shocking ignorance of lessons learned from Hillsborough and other football catastrophes, Liverpool were already facing another one: beware the “independent inquiry”.

The Portuguese MP Tiago Brandão Rodrigues may well be made of the sternest independent mind, but Uefa has appointed him to conduct the review into the Champions League fiasco and Uefa itself is very much a focus for the necessary investigation.

The pile-up of catastrophes by police and organisers in the dystopian, teargassed approach to France’s national stadium has mostly been identified rapidly, by supporters with video evidence, the umbrella group Football Supporters Europe and some excellent reporting by sports journalists at the match. As so often, the causes of chaos can be terrifyingly simple: the police had no workable system to check for valid tickets some way from the turnstiles and instead held thousands of people in a ridiculous bottleneck for an age, before giving up completely. There were then breakdowns and closures at the turnstiles leading to more huge static queues, clearly aggravated by some groups of local lads chancing it to get in.

The excessively tooled-up police were filmed teargassing innocent people, young and old, at times with an air of bored dismissiveness, so even the French ministers are not denying that. The only real point of contention left, although highly toxic, is how much of the turnstile clogging was caused by fake tickets. The ministers’ claims, that there were 30-40,000 Liverpool fans with fake or no tickets, look ludicrous – where, physically, were all these tens of thousands of people? – but there will have been some, a routine issue to be dealt with at any major match. Yet many Liverpool supporters have said their tickets, either very expensively bought or even, as Andy Robertson said, issued officially to VIPs, did not scan at the turnstiles.

Any proper inquiry will also need to ask how and why, in the middle of all that danger, Uefa put out two announcements, one on the big screen for all the world to see, instantly pinning the blame on Liverpool supporters. That was an unmistakable echo of the on-the-spot police cover-up at Hillsborough and it was truly shocking to see European football’s governing body going anywhere near broadcasting an instant verdict.

The credibility of the first announcement – late arrival of fans – did not last a minute, with thousands of people immediately protesting they had been held outside for hours. Yet still Uefa put out a second one after the game finished, the accusation that “thousands” of Liverpool fans had fake tickets, which felt instinctively far-fetched – and, clearly, yet to be established.

Those same fans who had been immediately accused faced what for many was the worst part of a terrible event: a nightmarish walk to the train stations, where they were violently attacked and robbed.

Some at Aleksander Ceferin’s slick Uefa may bridle at the comparison with the fan-blaming lies of the South Yorkshire police in 1989, but that would demonstrate only more ignorance. The tales in the Uefa statements were the very same as those at Hillsborough: late, ticketless Liverpool fans. The bereaved families of 97 people unlawfully killed at that FA Cup semi-final have been forced to fight for decades to disprove the easy but poisonous blaming of the victims. It took them 27 years before the jury at the 2016 inquests wholly rejected the police lies, and found that the cause of the disaster was grossly negligent police mismanagement of the showpiece football match.

Uefa’s reckless announcements prompted a toxic torrent on social media that again showed how persistent the original police lies are for people whose football support expresses itself in prejudiced hatred of rivals. It seemed on Saturday night there was no line of respect left some would not cross, as even bereaved family members were trolled and insulted.

That is the legacy of trauma thousands of Liverpool supporters are burdened with at every football match they attend. Indeed, with young people excluded by 2022 Uefa ticket prices, many in Paris were survivors of Hillsborough, now in their 50s and 60s. There is simply no excuse for Uefa to be so ignorant of this.

A Liverpool feeling the effects of teargas enters the stadium in Paris while many others queue outside.
A Liverpool feeling the effects of teargas enters the stadium in Paris while many others queue outside. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images

As the French ministers have dug in on their improbable case, it has also been clear that British football supporters are not at all helped by Brexit, another British outcome fuelled by toxic lies on social media. Those who pushed for Britain to leave the EU apparently barely considered that, for ever, British people will still be travelling, holidaying and watching football matches in Europe. Some misfortunes will always happen and in those circumstances Britons now lack equal rights and a government with a seat around the table.

The rest of Europe sees British people in separate queues and Boris Johnson’s government picking fights with France over migrant crossings or mussel fishing. Just as French-bashing seems to play well to a particular mentality in Britain, so the French government is apparently finding it more agreeable to blame Liverpool fans than face up to its own police force’s thuggery.

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A fundamental lesson from Hillsborough, and any other public calamity, is to wait until the facts can be established, not pass instant judgment blaming the victims. That Uefa was so ignorant of that principle and so unaware of Liverpool sensitivities became part of the night’s horror.

A genuinely independent inquiry is needed to take evidence: about the catastrophic organisation of Uefa’s great final and the claims authorities have made to pass on their responsibility – including the announcements by Uefa. This is why a certain caution may be advisable, before trusting an inquiry Uefa itself has set up.

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